Phasing out Elephants?

In recent years a number of zoos have closed their elephant exhibits for ethical and/or financial reasons. They include zoos in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and India.
To determine if the removal of elephants had any discernible impact on zoo visitation, Zoocheck Canada contacted all of the US zoos that had phased out elephants. To date, 8 facilities have responded. None of them reported a decrease in attendance due to the closure of their elephant exhibit. In fact, most reported no change whatsoever in their attendance and in several cases there was actually an increase in attendance. In addition, it did not appear that any of the facilities had replaced their elephant exhibit with an alternative, non-live elephant display or opened other attraction that would have temporarily increased attendance in the months following the removal of their elephant displays.

The following is a list of zoos that have closed elephant exhibits:
  • Detroit Zoo, Michigan - Citing problems with keeping elephants in captivity, announced its decision to close its elephant exhibit and send two female Asian elephants - Winky (age 51) and Wanda (age 46) - to the PAWS sanctuary in 2005. The Detroit Zoo discussed their decision process openly and has since confirmed that the attendance at the zoo has increased annually.
  • Philadelphia Zoo, Pennsylvania - Sent Asian elephant, Dulary, to The Elephant Sanctuary in April 2007 and transferred two African elephants to the Pittsburgh Zoo's elephant-breeding centre in June 2009. Zoo records show that there has been no significant change in attendance since closing the elephant exhibit.
  • London Zoo, United Kingdom - Permanently relocated three female Asian elephants (Mya, Layang-Layang, and Dilberta) to Whipsnade Wild Animal Park, closing the zoo's 170-year-old elephant exhibit. The London Zoo's enclosure had been heavily criticized for years, and a keeper was killed in October 2001.
  • Edinburgh Zoo, United Kingdom - Since 1988, the Edinburgh Zoo has not kept elephants because of concerns that captivity may cause harm to these animals.
  • Bristol Zoo, United Kingdom - Elected to no longer keep elephants after they euthanized the lone 42-year-old elephant, Wendy, after years of suffering from arthritis.
  • Alaska Zoo, Alaska - Moved their last elephant, Maggie, to the PAWS sanctuary in 2007. Maggie had collapsed twice in a week immediately prior to the zoo making the decision to send her to the sanctuary. Zoo records show that there has been no significant change in attendance since closing the elephant exhibit.
  • Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago - After all three of its elephants died within a six-month period, announced that camels would be moved into the empty elephant exhibit.
  • Greater Vancouver Zoo, British Columbia - Sent Tina to The Elephant Sanctuary in 2003 because the cost of keeping an appropriate social group was too high.
  • Chehaw Wild Animal Park, Georgia - Retired Tange and Zula, both 30-year-old African elephants, to The Elephant Sactuary in 2004 because the elephants "deserve to live out their remaining years in the very best captive environment possible."
  • San Francisco Zoo, California - Announced its decision to close its elephant exhibit in 2004 and send Tinkerbelle, a 37-year-old Asian elephant, and Lulu, a 38-year-old African elephant, to a sanctuary.
  • Gladys Porter Zoo, Texas - Citing its inability to increase the size of its elephant exhibit, sent its only elephant, Ruth, a 28-year-old African elephant, to another facility in 2006.
  • Henry Vilas Zoo, Wisconsin - In 2000, this zoo retired Winkie, a 34-year-old Asian elephant, to The Elephant Sanctuary, and transferred Penny, a 21-year-old African elephant, to Riverbanks Zoo, North Carolina. 
  • Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo, Louisiana - Retired Shirley, a 51-year-old Asian elephant, to The Elephant Sanctuary in 1999 because "it was in Shirley's best interests to retire her to a place that was more suitable."
  • Mesker Park Zoo, Indiana - Retired Bunny, a 46-year-old Asian elephant, to The Elephant Sanctuary in 1999.
  • Frank Buck Zoo, Texas - In 1998, the Frank Buck Zoo transferred Sissy, a 20-year-old Asian elephant, to the Houston Zoo, then to El Paso Zoo, and finally to The Elephant Sanctuary.
  • Sacramento Zoo, California - In 1991, the Sacramento Zoo sent their lone elephant Winky to the Detroit Zoo because the Zoo's elephant enclosure was considered "totally inadequate." Ultimately, the Detroit Zoo also decided to close their elephant exhibit because they felt that the cold climate in Detroit could not provide an appropriate place for elephants.
  • Dudley Zoo, United Kingdom - Transferred African elephants Flossie and Flora to Planet Sauvage in Nantes, France in 2003. The Dudley Zoo had admitted for some years that its enclosure was not appropriate, and fundraising to build a new enclosure was unsuccessful, so the zoo finally decided to find a new home for the elephants and has no plans to have more elephants in the future.
  • Longleat Safari Park, United Kingdom - Closed the elephant exhibit at its 350-acre Wiltshire site and relocated five African elephants to the Zoo Parc de Beauval in France in 2003.
  • All zoos in India - In 2009, India's Central Zoo Authority issued a directive stating that all 140 elephants living in  Indian zoos must be moved to wildlife parks and sanctuaries where they can graze more freely.

In addition to the facilities that have already closed their elephant displays, the following facilities have indicated their intent to follow suit:
  • Lion Country Safari, Florida - Has indicated that they intend to find new homes for African elephants Stumpy and Mama, and then will close its elephant exhibit.
  • Santa Barbara Zoo, California - Announced that they will not take any more elephants after their current two die.
  • Bronx Zoo, New York - Announced that when two of its three elephants pass away, the remaining one will be sent to another zoo and the elephant exhibit will close.